Wild horses (and burros) have been part of the American Wild West Landscape for centuries. Where did these horses come from? Depending on who you ask, they may have come from Spain or they may have been here in the "Americas" but this is not the point, the point is they have survived for centuries on the plains and the desert mountain landscapes of Nevada, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Oregon. The herds have names usually inspired by their location. A few examples of the forty-five or so herds include Humboldt Herd of Nevada, Havasu, Palomino Buttes... the herds also have devoted followers, people who love, name them, form social media fan pages to document the beauty and well being of the wild horses. It is all very romantic, and yet there is a tragic, terrible side to this love story. Enter the Bureau of Land Management, un-affectionately known by animal lovers as the BLM or Bureau of Land Mismanagement. The on-going saga includes the "Wild Horse Annie Act of 1959, the "Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, and finally the Burns Amendment of 2004 which allows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to sell older and unadoptable animals at livestock auctions, most likely for purchase by kill buyers. I am appalled to learn that our nation's wild horses are being rounded up by the thousands, quietly and strategically by the BLM via million-dollar contracts paid to third-party contractors like Sun J Livestock. And if that is not bad enough, consider the public information data sheet from this week's U.S.-Mexico Livestock Trade Weekly Roundup shows a Current Year to Date figure of 66,602 Wild Horses exported to Mexico, with 1,038 wild horses gone over the border to Mexico just this week. How many of these horses with uncertain fates (probably slaughtered) were previously living free under the guise of protection, we may not know. We do know, however, because it is available public knowledge for anyone who cares to search Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts that there are forty-seven thousand wild horses and burros in holding facilities (penned up) as of July 2015. These animals are said to be fed and cared for in either short-term corrals or long-term pastures at a cost of more than $43 million a year. A few hundred wild horses go to pasture on prison property, where prisoners break or train the wild horses in an effort to make the horses more "adoptable". Speaking to several BLM officials by phone regarding the current roundup (they call it a gather) of 167 horses, exactly 25% of the West Douglas Herd in Colorado where two horses so far have lost there lives in as many days as a direct result of the helicopter roundup by Sun J Livestock c/o BLM), it becomes clear to me that the BLM acts well within it's rights under the amended Law...here's how. Under the mandate, BLM can charge private ranchers per cow to graze on allotments of public land, those "rents" along with grazing permit fees earned the Colorado region's BLM $86.2 million last year. BLM justifies the removal of wild horses (aided by helicopters and contracted livestock roundup experts that have been investigated for animal abuse/cruelty allegations) by using land management principles of the land can only support so many animals and the horses are not a native species. In the interest of being impartial, included is a link sent to me from public affairs BLM that shows science, behold! http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13511/using-science-to-improve-the-blm-wild-horse-and-burro-program
The number of privately owned cattle permitted to graze on the delicate landscape is never disclosed, but it's okay, because "that land is managed by the ranchers". I write this article in hopes that more people begin to question and give practical input into the land use policy practices exercised by the federally funded authority that is BLM, not to mention their private cattle rancher associates.
The Tentative Wild Horse and Burro Removal and Fertility Control Treatment Schedule will leave you feeling disturbed at best, infuriated at worst, and finally, heart-broken. A forest ranger in BLMs employ shared with me his deep insights into the problems plaguing the wild horses. He simply stated "I eat beef, not horse", settling the notion that cattle grazing is the top priority, not the horses running wild and free on the land they're supposed to be protected on. The information is out there, the wild horses and a few remaining wild burros need our help urgently - just as in the 1950's when Wild Horse Annie and her school children brought the plight of the wild horses into the public eye, my hope is that we all revisit our love of horses and our love of freedom. Let's not sit idly by while our Wild Horses are abused, neglected, and sold to slaughter to the lowest bidder because of loop holes in the Law, the same law that was originally meant to protect and keep the Wild Horses free and safe from harm.
There is a new petition directed at Congress to repeal the Burns Amendment and to implement the original Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 that Congress passed to protect the Wild Horses and Burros once again under the law.
Special thanks to the Fitch family who kindly granted permission to publish the above copyright photograph.